Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Do managers backdate options?

Do managers backdate options? It sure seems that way.

From Reuters:
"A U.S. government probe into stock option grants for executives widened on Tuesday with more technology companies being called on to explain the way these grants are awarded.

The investigation focuses on whether companies are giving executives backdated options after a run-up in the stock. Backdated securities are priced at a value before a rally, which boosts their returns."

From NPR:

" The Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is reportedly examining the timing of stock option awards by corporations." (BTW this is included to you can listen to it--has several professors speaking on it.)

From the LA Times:

""The stock-option game is supposed to confer the potential for profit, but also some risk," said John Freeman, a professor of business ethics at the University of South Carolina Law School who was a special counsel to the SEC during the 1970s. "When in essence the executives are betting on yesterday's horse races, knowing the outcome, there's no risk whatever.""

What does past academic research have to say on this? Most of the evidence suggests that backdating probably does occur.

For years there have been papers showing that managers tend to announce bad news prior to option grants and even time the grants prior to price run ups (see Yermack 1997) it has only been more recently that researchers have noticed that the price appreciation was not merely due to firm specific factors (which managers may be able to control and time) but also market wide factors (i.e. the stock market goes up after option grants).

Last year a paper by Narayanan and Seyhun suggested that this may be the result of backdating the option grants. More recently two papers by Collins, Gong, and Li (a) and (b) find further evidence that backdating is (or at least was) happening and that unscheduled grant dates (where this can occur) tend to be found more commonly at firms whose management has relatively more control over their board of directors.

Stay tuned!!

* A quick comment to any manager who may have done this: Why bother? Why risk it all cheating for a few extra dollars? (Indeed it reminds me of the Adelphia case where the firm outsourced snow plowing to a Rigas owned firm. It just doesn't seem worth it.)

*As an aside, once again this shows that finance and accounting go hand in hand as Collins, Gong, and Li are accounting professors!

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